Orleans-Caledonia House Candidates Give Opinions

by Doug McClure

CRAFTSBURY – Five candidates are running for election to the Orleans-Caledonia District House’s two seats. The incumbent candidate is Vicki Strong (R). Democrat incumbent Sam Young chose not to run for re-election.

Gazette towns represented: Craftsbury and Greensboro.

Running: Democrats John Elwell and Katherine Sims; Republicans Vicki Strong (Incumbent) and Jeannine Young; Independent Frank Huard.

Vicki Strong and Frank Huard did not reply. Responses are presented in the order in which they were received.

Profiles:

Katherine Sims

“I moved to the Northeast Kingdom nearly 20 years ago to work on a farm, but what I discovered here was so much bigger than I could have imagined. I found community.

I found people who care about their neighbors. People who work hard and play hard. People who know the value of getting outside. People raising resilient kids. People who turn great ideas into entrepreneurial success. People working together to do big things. Now I want to bring these voices — your voices — to the statehouse. Like other rural parts of Vermont, families in our district struggle to access housing, health care, childcare and high-speed internet. Young people burdened by student debt are leaving to find jobs elsewhere. We need more investment to strengthen our economy and support efforts to combat and adapt to climate change.

I am running for state representative because I believe we deserve more. No matter where you live, you deserve the opportunity to thrive. We want a Vermont that invests in rural communities. Where all families have a fair shot in today’s economy. Where we protect the land and environment for future generations. For over a decade, I have worked to implement creative solutions to solve our communities’ biggest challenges, like access to high-speed internet, affordable childcare, healthy food, new markets for farmers, and good jobs.

I have the track record of positive change that you want in a representative. With a reputation for getting things done and uniting diverse groups, I will work for the most vulnerable. Now I’m looking to bring my skills and experience to Montpelier as a strong voice for working Vermonters and rural communities.”

Jeannine Young

“I am a native Vermonter. I grew up on a farm in Glover, and in Hardwick. I’ve been interested in politics since being elected fifth grade class president in Glover! I’ve lived almost all of my life in the Northeast Kingdom. My husband, Joe, and I are now back at our home in Craftsbury.

We raised three sons. Joe is a retired federal law enforcement officer.

I have a wide variety of experiences to bring to the legislature. I’m a former village trustee and water and sewer commissioner. I advocated for and worked on common-sense solutions to village, water and sewer issues. I have worked in and volunteered in schools. I have worked in permitting, so I have experience in real-life effects that regulations have on businesses and the average homeowner. I have knowledge of what those in law enforcement face each day. I have studied a range of health-related issues and can provide another perspective. I earned my paralegal certificate from Woodbury College, which I can use in every area of the legislature. I have kept involved with government by attending Legislative breakfasts for over 20 years to follow what was happening in Montpelier. I dare say that I have attended more legislative breakfasts in Newport than any current legislator or candidate, with the exception of Senator Starr.

I continue to serve as an active community volunteer and am the current Craftsbury town moderator. My husband and I cultivate a large garden, donating produce to neighbors, friends, family, schools and wherever there’s a need.

I believe that I am the most well-rounded candidate who can bring a wide range of experiences and knowledge to the Legislature.

I will forcefully advocate for the Northeast Kingdom. As a state representative, I will always ask myself these questions: Is it good for the people? Is it good for the state? How will this affect people and what might be the unintended consequences?

The economy is the primary focus. That is what drives everything. A good economy brings increased revenues, reduces unemployment, which reduces the need for social services, saving taxpayers money. Making ACT 250 more user friendly would help speed new projects through the process, bringing more jobs sooner. Having worked on permitting, I understand the issues. More coordination among the government agencies is one solution to speeding up the process.”

John Elwell

“I live in Craftsbury and I am running to give a progressive vote to issues affecting people of the District and the state of Vermont. As a Vermont House member, I believe in working with other members to come up with meaningful and financially sound decisions.

[I’m focused on] The needs of low and moderate income, small business, COVID and health care. I am a small business owner, worked for an insurance company involving health insurance. volunteer as a tax aide and a trustee for a land trust. I will work with other legislator for solutions.”

Affordability

Sims: “Too many Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet. We must ensure that the wealthiest people and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes and reduce the tax burden on the average Vermonters. The wealthiest in our state received millions of dollars in federal tax cuts, while our hospitals, colleges and communities have suffered. I support implementing a progressive tax structure. This includes creating a more progressive education funding formula which ends property tax on primary residences, continues property tax on non-residential property and moves the bulk of education tax to an income-based system to allow Vermonters to pay what they can afford. I also support moving social services provided by schools out of education budgets to lower property taxes. I believe those resources should be invested in affordable childcare, healthcare reform, family leave policies, and weatherization efforts which would leave more money in working Vermonters pockets.”

Young: “Affordability means that Vermont is not one of the highest-taxed states in the country. We cannot tax our residents to the extent that they move out of the state. That is happening now. Those residents also leave with their disposable income. I would work on eliminating the ‘cliff’ for benefits. When it comes to health care, even a small raise can kick you off the low rates and you go to paying the full amount. That gives no one an incentive to work more. Benefits should have a sliding scale to help people get off benefits and not fall behind.”

Elwell: “Affordability means the cost to provide for basic needs – food, clothing, housing, basic medical care – is within the financial reach of a person or family.

Childcare, health care/insurance, COVID are all areas I would work with others to address.”

Retail Market for Marijuana

Sims: “A well-regulated cannabis market will benefit communities through increased generated revenue, job creation, and by increasing the ability of law enforcement to more effectively address substance abuse.”

Young: “I do not support legalization of marijuana. The governor should have vetoed the bill. How do we expect to grow the workforce when potential employees are under the effects of marijuana? Trucking companies already have trouble filling vacancies. Potential employees won’t be able to obtain their CDL. It doesn’t make sense to legalize a drug that will negatively impact people or the state. Colorado has had negative effects from legalization. Their income in taxation doesn’t cover the costs involved with the problems.”

Police Use of Force Bill

Sims: “I believe we must reduce or eliminate mass incarceration through investments in prevention and changes to the criminal justice system. We must also address the use of deadly force by law enforcement, to explore the question of reparations, and to re-think the role of police and police power in shaping our communities. As a starting point, we must stop criminalizing poverty and mental health. We must end our reliance on for-profit prisons, ensure a just and supportive re-entry process after release, and provide humane conditions in holding facilities.”

Young: “I would not have supported S.119. There are some situations where a law enforcement officer acts inappropriately, but those actions were most likely already against department policy. It is easy to say what should have happened when you have the time to study the situation. When an officer has a split second to make a decision, there’s a big difference. It is my understanding that law enforcement was not in support of this legislation. My husband was, and my son is, a federal law enforcement officer. My husband has been in situations where there was gunfire. It’s a lot different than what one sees on TV. I challenge anyone who thinks they know what it’s like to be a police officer to go through a “shoot, don’t shoot” scenario before criticizing a police officer’s actions.”

Elwell: “I am in favor of S 119 becoming law, but attention needs to be paid to how it works.”

Act 46:

Sims: “Our schools play a unique and invaluable role in our small communities. We must ensure equitable access to viable education. I believe that each community knows best how to educate its children and that critical decisions — like keeping our schools — should be made at the local level. For the last twenty years, our public education system has overtaxed and underfunded schools in Vermont’s rural and poor towns. According to the Pupil Weighting Factors Report commissioned by the legislature to study equity in Vermont’s Education Funding Formula, we incentivize spending less on students who cost more to educate and more on students who cost less to educate. Over the past 20 years, this has resulted in fewer opportunities and increased costs for poor and rural schools and higher taxes for Vermonters. To avoid further harm after twenty years of inequity in school resources, legislators must implement the weighting recommendations and update the education funding formula. We must act now to reveal the tax burden on rural Vermonters and ensure that all Vermont children, no matter where they live, have equal opportunity to thrive.”

Young: “The legislature should address educational funding. Forced mergers have not shown the savings promised. Even with the property tax rebates, low income residents are affected. Relying only on income to calculate rebates does not take into account wealth. A former school district business manager once told me that the problem with all of the education funding formulas was that they were never fully funded.”

Elwell: “Act 46 will continue to be dealt with in the legislature. It is more than just a financial issue. The property tax as well as any tax is more of a burden on lower income people. Lower income people do get some relief from the property tax through the Homestead Declaration and how the tax is calculated on the value of the property.”

Broadband:

Sims: “We must expand access to high-speed internet so that everyone can access education, work, and resources from their home. Access to the internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. As a member of the board and the executive committee of the NEK Community Broadband Communication Union District and the Vermont Telecommunications Advisory Board, I have been actively working to advance efforts to bring broadband to our region for the past two years. In the short-term, we must install fixed wireless projects to be completed in 2020. In the long-term, we must fully fund the build-out of a region-wide last mile high-speed broadband network through a combination of federal and state grants, loans, private investment and bonding.”

Young: “Some have promoted the idea of a program much like the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) that brought electricity to rural areas. The cost of extending broadband to rural areas is a challenge due to the low number of connections per mile. The Communications Union Districts are a step toward solutions, but the cost is still just over $70 per month for the lowest tier service. In Vermont, Consolidated Communications has a program offering a $9.25 Federal Lifeline Program discount. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with this discount.”

Elwell: “I think broadband is a key issue and the legislature has to continue to do what is necessary to get service to everyone in the state. Reliable service and the faster the better.”

Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave

Sims: “Vermont families are struggling with stagnant wages and income inequality. It is unacceptable that someone can work full-time and not meet their basic needs. When families can’t meet basic needs, they often rely on heating assistance, food stamps, government health programs — causing taxpayers to subsidize low-wage employers. If we can increase wages, we all do better. Raising the minimum wage puts more money directly in the pockets of Vermonters who work at the lowest rungs of our economic ladder. Many large, out-of-state retail and supermarket chains pay so little and offer so few benefits that their employees need to rely upon a range of government programs. With a higher minimum wage, those companies will pick up more of the tab for their employees, and taxpayers will get some relief.

I support creating universal paid family and medical leave. I would prioritize the passage of a publicly-financed paid family leave program, ensuring that family members can be together during times of illness or the arrival of a new child without financial stress forcing difficult choices.”

Young: “Small business owners who are already struggling may have a difficult time paying any additional wages. Another concern I have is, what does raising the minimum wage do for the people already earning that amount? I think there should be a training wage, or a wage for students. Someone learning a job and someone with experience shouldn’t necessarily earn the same wage. Paid family leave is another government mandate. It is another cost to small business owners. One size does not fit all. H.395, a voluntary insurance program is a reasonable solution.”

Elwell: “I support the increase in the minimum wage and consider paid family leave a necessity.”

The Opioid Crisis/Criminal Justice:

Sims: “The people who sign up to protect and serve our communities as frontline workers, including police officers, deserve our gratitude and respect. However, we ask too much of our officers who constantly double as social workers, mediators, and medical responders. They are called on to deal with mental illness, domestic abuse, addiction, homelessness, and poverty, without the proper training and support. As we take steps to demilitarize police forces, we must also invest in mental health services, education, affordable healthcare, and other human rights-based solutions to peacekeeping and the strengthening of our communities.”

Young: “We should do all we can to reduce opiate usage. Doctors are reducing their prescriptions for opiates. According to Vermont’s September Monthly Opioid Update, there was an estimate of almost 9,000 Vermonters 18+ receiving medication assisted treatment. It’s not enough to substitute one drug for another. We should provide assistance to users for residential treatment to eliminate the need for drugs. No one accused of a serious crime should be released without bail. The accused and others using the courts have the right to a speedy trial. Criminal cases, civil cases and divorces take years to decide. Some of the effects of these delays is the increase in legal fees, more animosity between parties, and actually taking more court time. Rotating judges is part of the problem, not the solution. When the case goes to court and there is a different judge, you know that judge has not had time to review the entire case. One judge will advise one course of action to the parties, then when you go back, it’s a different judge, and that judge asks why that course of action was taken and negates what the prior judge recommended. That just wasted the judge’s and the court’s time and adds legal fees for the parties. We should try to have the same judge follow a case through to its completion. When cases are resolved more quickly, judges can move on to the next cases.”

Elwell: “The opioid epidemic requires the efforts of not only law enforcement but health care workers and individuals. If police are to do more, they need money and education and trained

personnel. [Criminal justice] is another that requires more money and trained personnel. I need more education on the subject.”

Protecting the Rights of Women, Minorities, and LGBTQ+ Citizens:

Sims: “Vermont has provided additional safeguards for reproductive rights by adding an affirmative right to choose into Vermont state law in House Bill 57 which was signed into law by Republican Governor Phil Scott in 2019. At the same time, this law also supports a woman’s choice to carry a pregnancy to term and supports access to contraception and sterilization services. I support every Vermonter’s right to choose or to refuse contraception, pregnancy, or parenthood. Every Vermonter should be able to choose the course of their life and make their own decisions about their bodies. I support permanent and equal access to reproductive choice, the expansion of sexual health education, access to contraception, and continued funding for Vermont’s reproductive health providers.”

Young: “At this time, if Roe v Wade were overturned, nothing would change in Vermont. Abortion is legal throughout all nine months in Vermont. I do not support Proposition 5. I have not seen a need for the legislature to do more for gay rights.”

Elwell: “[I would] continue to support women’s rights and gay rights on the state level and react if there in fact is a shift [in the Supreme Court].”